Grizzlies, Clippers moving in opposite directions

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January 6, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, United States; Memphis Grizzles guard Ja Morant (12) dribbles the field in the second half against the Detroit Pistons at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The expanding Memphis Grizzlies are aiming for their eighth straight win on Saturday against the Clippers in the first half of a back-to-back weekend in Los Angeles.

Memphis tied their longest winning streak since February 2021 on Thursday with a 118-88 rout from Detroit. Ja Morant set the tone in a solid all-round game of 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Since returning to the roster on December 20 after a 12-game absence, the result of an ankle injury and then health and safety protocol, Morant has averaged 27.0 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds over nine games.

Rookie Ziaire Williams, who missed 17 of 18 games before joining the rotation on Tuesday, scored a career-high 14 points on Thursday in his very first start.

“He said: ‘It was awesome,'” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said in his post-game press conference on Williams’ response to time missed due to sprained ankle and the NBA protocol. “I actually have to take a step back and watch games and get a feel for my accomplishments, what I need to keep working on. He is humble during the process. He likes to work.

Williams’ return helped the Grizzlies close some holes in the roster. Kyle Anderson missed his third game in a row with back pain.

John Konchar and Xavier Tillman are in health and safety protocol, and Desmond Bane was out of rotation for the first time this season on Thursday with a quadriceps injury.

Bane is averaging 17.4 points on 41.6% strength in 3-pointers. He’s attempting a team record of 6.9 attempts at 3 points per game.

While the Grizzlies’ recent surge has helped them elevate them to the fourth-best record in the Western Conference in games played Thursday, the Clippers have only had 3-8 in their last 11 and have slipped below the bar. 0.500 this season. They are eighth in the West after a 106-89 loss Thursday at Phoenix.

Marcus Morris scored 26 points and took eight rebounds, and Reggie Jackson added 16 points and eight rebounds in the loss, bearing the load for an exhausted Los Angeles roster.

A torn ligament in his right elbow has sidelined Paul George – the Clippers’ top scorer with 24.7 points per game – since December 26. George also leads Los Angeles in assists with 5.5 per game and steals with 2.0 per game, and he is second with 7.1 rebounds per game.

The Clippers’ top 8.2-per-game rebounder, Ivica Zubac, is in health and safety protocol with 44.1% 3-point shooter Luke Kennard.

“The teams are a bit bigger,” Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue said in his post-game press conference as the absences of George and Zubac cleared the Clippers’ frontcourt. “But we can do a better job hitting first and bringing that physicality.”

Los Angeles has been starved of star Kawhi Leonard for the entire season due to an ACL tear suffered during the NBA playoffs last summer. Lue told reporters Thursday he was “optimistic” that Leonard could return this season but was still unsure.

–Field level media

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